Cruising the Kimberley Coast

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to Kimberley Cruises. Each vessel has something different to offer so it’s important to know which one is right for you. Here is a brief overview of some of the factors to consider but remember you can book in a no obligation ‘discovery call’ with me and we can chat about your travelling style.

Let’s start with what may be important to you

  • Maximum passenger numbers?
  • Inclusive alcohol or Range of wines?
  • Fine Dining?
  • Active hiking?
  • Swimming holes?
  • Fishing in the best locations?
  • Access to a helicopter?
  • Experts onboard who offer informative lectures?
  • Balcony cabins?
  • Easy to board expedition vessels?

Maximum Passenger Numbers

The size of the boats cruising the Kimberley Coast varies greatly; from 12 passengers up to 180. The rule of thumb is: ‘Small’ is up to 36, ‘Mid range’ is considered from there to about 100 passengers and ‘bigger’ is from 100 passengers.

Small ships such as Kimberley Quest, Reef Prince or True North offer more active itineraries; taking walks to water holes for swimming and viewing more ‘hidden art sites’. There are usually opportunities for fishing and mud crabbing as well. Smaller vessels offer a more intimate experience, more ‘hands on’ if you like, closer to the water, closer to the region’s flora and fauna and, to a certain degree, they can be more flexible with the itinerary. 

The smaller boat itineraries are usually between Broome and Wyndham (the port that serves Kununurra) or round trip cruise/fly trips from Broome. There are fabulous itineraries that include a flight to/from the Mitchell Plateau and a helicopter over the Mitchell Falls onto the boat; a truly amazing way to start or finish your cruise.  These boats are also small enough to get up close to the waterfalls and land.

Mid range boats include Eco Abrolhos and the Coral Discoverer.  Eco Abrolhos is the ‘smallest’ vessel that operates the Darwin and Broome cruise and has a good range of cabins; offers fishing and a personal ‘family run’ touch that gives a lovely inclusive feeling on the boat.

Coral Discoverer is an extremely popular ship that has been operating Kimberley coast cruises for several years. She is the smallest vessel to offer a dedicated expedition team who include a specialist biologist or naturalist, for example, and provide expert lectures during sailing.

Bigger ships (which are still nothing like the BIG cruise ships you see elsewhere) go to a maximum of 184 and usually operate Darwin to Broome cruises v.v. at time of writing the Coral Adventurer and Geographer are both carrying up to 100 guests and Le Bellot and Le Laperouse up to 184.

These boats may offer drinks with meals, choice of dinning; expert expedition staff, guest lectures and balcony cabins. A couple offer a small swimming pool as well as a day spa and gym.

Inclusive alcohol, wine lists and BYO

Some boats include standard alcoholic drinks in their cruise price.  On the Coral Discoverer, Adventurer and Geographer they are included with lunch and dinner and Le Bellot and Le Laperouse offer drinks for the whole cruise. If your tastes extend to the ‘top shelf’ these will also be offered at an additional cost.

True North, Eco Abrolhos and Odyssey (to name a few) offer drinks at bar prices. True North have an extensive wine list for you to choose from.

A few boats can offer you the option of BYO. Kimberley Quest and Great Escape are good examples. As a rule, anything that can be purchased from BWS in Broome can be ordered or we have had passengers send a case of their favourite wine to the office to be put on the boat. BYO needs to be pre ordered approximately 6 weeks prior to sailing.

Fine Dining

All the boats offer a good range of fresh, locally sourced ingredients where possible. Some boats have professional chefs and others offer ‘from the sea to your plate’ which you land the catch of the day.

Le Bellot and Le Laperouse have two dining options; all with a French flair. True North advertise ‘fine dining’ experience with dinner; proffering an array of different cuisines. I can truly say that on the 4 Kimberley cruises that I have taken the food has been excellent.

Hiking, Swimming and Fishing

All Kimberley cruises have some walking and often a swim in a water hole. However the larger vessels tend to cater to a broader range of physical abilities and therefore don’t offer as many opportunities to take the longer and/or more strenuous walks to the higher swimming holes and waterfalls.

The larger boats do not offer fishing on their itineraries; this is limited to those WA registered vessels with the appropriate fishing permits. Don’t worry -where fishing is offered on the smaller vessels there is usually another option available for those who are not interested.

Helicopters

Two boats have permanent helicopters on board. True North and MV Great Escape. It is important to note that helicopter sightseeing is at an additional cost to the base cost of your Kimberley Coast Cruise.  Having a helicopter at your disposal is a touch of luxury that allows you to appreciate the stunning coast line from an aerial view; giving you a great sense of the vast area covered. The Heli picnics offered are a wonderful day off the boat to a secret location where can have a swim and enjoy a sumptuous BBQ.

Where a helicopter is not on board, most cruises will offer the option of a helicopter ride over the Mitchell Plateau (the only way to truly appreciate the spectacular four-tiered falls).  There are a few itineraries we offer that start from Broome by small plane to the Mitchell Plateau and then a helicopter transfer out to the boat. Or if your cruise starts in Broome then you take this trip in reverse. Naturally the helicopter does a quick ‘figure of eight’ over the falls for a photo opportunity. This is a very special way to start or finish Kimberley Cruises.

Dedicated, expert, expedition crew

All of the bigger Kimberley coast cruise vessels have a dedicated team of specialists (marine biologists, naturalists, geologists, ecologists) that organise and lead their expeditions.  With the smaller vessels True North also have permanent specialists and  many of Kimberley Quest’s cruises do also.  When these specialist crews are on- board they offer fascinating lectures on a range of subjects including history, geology, photography, flora and fauna.

And in general, especially on the Broome based ships, you’ll find the crew entertaining and informative on all things Kimberley. Some of them have been sailing the Kimberley coast for decades.

Balcony Cabins

This is quite a new concept to Kimberley Coast cruises with the introduction of larger and/or newer vessels. Balconies range in size to a small French balcony to a large open space with lounge recliners. Very much a personal choice; having a coffee in the morning while cruising the Kimberley coast is a very special way to start your day and having that extra space for some ‘me time’ will never go astray. A cabin with a balcony has become an increasingly popular request in the last couple of years.

Expeditions Vessels/Tenders

These are the smaller boats that you are used to venture onto shore or cruise around the smaller river systems and estuaries. The Coral Expedition’s ships use their ‘Xplorers’ which are designed to take all guests at once, are protected from the sun and have a toilet on board.  These are operated by hydraulic lift into, and out of, the water so the actual boarding is very easy – you basically walk onto the Xplorer and then it is lowered into the water. It makes excursions off these ships easy and quick.

The other Kimberley Cruises have zodiacs or aluminium tenders (Kimberley Quest and Eco Abrolhos have tenders with sun protection).

When to travel

This is the subject of a whole new article but in short: the best time of year is debatable; April and May (arguably early June) will see the waterfalls at their best in the northern half of the Kimberley  especially at King George Falls. The southern highlights of the Kimberley coast including  Montgomery Reef and Horizontal Falls are just as amazing throughout the season. As the season progresses the warmer water is best for catching Barramundi!  The August – September period is also best for Whale Watching. Every month of the Kimberley cruise season offers something beautiful to experience so it really depends on when the best time is for you.


Jenny Flower is an expert in small ship cruising in the Kimberley and has completed four cruises on different vessels along this spectacular coastline. To book in a no obligation ‘discovery call’ about Kimberley cruising click here. If you are confused about all the different ships and itineraries in the Kimberley and just need some general information to start your research then download Jenny’s free guide to Kimberley cruising here.